FOR James Barton, a snapped Achilles tendon was so much more than a painful interruption to his busy routine. It also provided the impetus for him to launch a soap-making business, to add to all the other enterprises he is involved in with his wife Sara at their home in Wigtown, in Dumfries and Galloway.
The only parent to turn up to a family day at his four-year-old son Benjamin's karate class, he was indulging in a few gentle stretches, a little light bouncing on his feet, when the tendon snapped. “One minute I was standing there, the next I was lying on the floor. I thought, ‘I can't have hurt myself, I was just bouncing on my toes,' but at A&E they said it was a broken Achilles and required 12 weeks of rest," he says
For Barton, however, it was an opportunity to do all the things he doesn't usually have time for when he and his wife are busy with their holiday cottages, special events catering – they have just finished feeding authors over the ten-day Wigtown Book Festival – and redevelopment of an old water mill. “I did paperwork, cleaned the house, filed the tax return and then had to find something to do while in a wheelchair, so I went back to the soap.
“I had done a course in making it in the spring. I thought it would be a hobby, but I had time to make it into something more," he says.
Thus the Wigtown Soap Company was born. Scotland's smallest soap producer makes ten kinds of hand-made soap that are infused with plants from the garden. The former chef applies the same principles to soap-blending as he does to cooking. “The things that taste good together smell good together. We have gone for a blend of organic extra-virgin oil and ethically sourced palm oil, where the vitamins haven't been destroyed. We use essential oils," he says.
The whole family is involved, with the children joining in too. “They have good little noses and can say what's ‘nice' and what's ‘yucky'. Jennifer sprinkles the lavender and flowers on top of the soaps," says Barton."
Barton was always a multi-tasker. After training at Westminster College, he worked in various restaurants while also managing properties. “Sara was looking for a flat and we met over that and fell in love. We moved up here ten years ago because we wanted to start a family, and London was no place – especially since we both grew up in the country. When we saw two derelict farm cottages online up here, we bought them without looking and moved on Valentine's Day."
Barton left his life as a chef and his wife quit her job as a journalist. “We packed everything up, and six days later were standing in front of the cottages, hand-feeding tame local birds. That's when we decided we weren't going back to London,” he says. “Here we grow things to eat, go fishing, make clothes and make do.”
After Barton's mother died last Christmas, the family moved to her home at Southfields, and the walled garden there now produces the raw materials for the soap. “There's nothing better than being given an impossible situation and a limited amount of time – and pulling it all off." n
Soap bars, £4 plus £1.50 p&p, Wigtown Soap Company (www.soapsimply.co.uk)